»Extending Packer

Packer is designed to be extensible, and supports plugins that allow you to create and use custom builders, provisioners, post-processors, and data sources. To learn more about developing these different types of components, please choose a link from the sidebar. To learn more about the general plugin architecture, stay on this page.

»Developing Plugins

This page will document how you can develop your own Packer plugins. Prior to reading this, you should be comfortable with Packer and know the basics of how plugins work from a user standpoint.

Packer plugins must be written in Go, so you should also be familiar with the language.

»Plugin System Architecture

A Packer plugin is just a go binary. Instead of loading plugins directly into a running application, Packer runs each plugin as a separate application. The multiple separate Packer plugin processes communicate with the Core using an RPC defined in the packer-plugin SDK. The Packer core itself is responsible launching and cleaning up the plugin processes.

»Plugin Development Basics

The components that can be created and used in a Packer plugin are builders, provisioners, post-processors, and data sources.

Each of these components has a corresponding interface.

All you need to do to create a plugin is:

  1. create an implementation of the desired interface, and
  2. serve it using the server provided in the packer-plugin-sdk.

The core and the SDK handle all of the communication details inside the server.

Your plugin must use two packages from the SDK to implement the server and interfaces. You're encouraged to use whatever other packages you want in your plugin implementation. Because plugins are their own processes, there is no danger of colliding dependencies.

Basic examples of serving your component are shown below. Note that if you define a multi-component plugin, you can (but do not need to) add more than one component per plugin binary. The multi-component plugin is also compatible with download and installation via packer init, whereas the single-component plugin is not.

// main.go

import (

// Assume this implements the packer.Builder interface
type ExampleBuilder struct{}

// Assume this implements the packer.PostProcessor interface
type FooPostProcessor struct{}

// Assume this implements the packer.Provisioner interface
type BarProvisioner struct{}

func main() {
    pps := plugin.NewSet()
    pps.RegisterBuilder("example", new(ExampleBuilder))
    pps.RegisterBuilder(plugin.DEFAULT_NAME, new(AnotherBuilder))
    pps.RegisterPostProcessor("foo", new(FooPostProcessor))
    pps.RegisterProvisioner("bar", new(BarProvisioner))
    err := pps.Run()
    if err != nil {
        fmt.Fprintln(os.Stderr, err.Error())

This plugin.NewSet invocation handles all the details of communicating with Packer core and serving your component over RPC. As long as your struct being registered implements one of the component interfaces, Packer will now be able to launch your plugin and use it.

If you register a component with its own name, the component name will be appended to the plugin name to create a unique name. If you register a component using the special string constant plugin.DEFAULT_NAME, then the component will be referenced by using only the plugin name. For example:

If your plugin is named packer-plugin-my, the above set definition would make the following components available:

  • the my-example builder
  • the my builder
  • the my-foo post-processor
  • the my-bar provisioner

Next, build your plugin as you would any other Go application. The resulting binary is the plugin that can be installed using standard installation procedures.

The specifics of how to implement each type of interface are covered in the relevant subsections available in the navigation to the left.

»Logging and Debugging

Plugins can use the standard Go log package to log. Anything logged using this will be available in the Packer log files automatically. The Packer log is visible on stderr when the PACKER_LOG environment var is set.

Packer will prefix any logs from plugins with the path to that plugin to make it identifiable where the logs come from. Some example logs are shown below:

2013/06/10 21:44:43 Loading builder: custom
2013/06/10 21:44:43 packer-builder-custom: 2013/06/10 21:44:43 Plugin minimum port: 10000
2013/06/10 21:44:43 packer-builder-custom: 2013/06/10 21:44:43 Plugin maximum port: 25000
2013/06/10 21:44:43 packer-builder-custom: 2013/06/10 21:44:43 Plugin address: :10000

As you can see, the log messages from the custom builder plugin are prefixed with "packer-builder-custom". Log output is extremely helpful in debugging issues and you're encouraged to be as verbose as you need to be in order for the logs to be helpful.

»Creating a GitHub Release

packer init does not work using a centralized registry. Instead, it requires you to publish your plugin in a GitHub repo with the name packer-plugin-* where * represents the name of your plugin. You also need to create a GitHub release of your plugin with specific assets for the packer init download to work. We provide a pre-defined release workflow configuration using GitHub Actions. We strongly encourage maintainers to use this configuration to make sure the release contains the right assets with the right names for Packer to leverage packer init installation.

Here's what you need to create releases using GitHub Actions:

  1. Generate a GPG key to be used when signing releases (See GitHub's detailed instructions for help with this step)
  2. Copy the GoReleaser configuration from the packer-plugin-scaffolding repository to the root of your repository.
    curl -L -o .goreleaser.yml \
  3. Copy the GitHub Actions workflow from the packer-plugin-scaffolding repository to .github/workflows/release.yml in your repository.
    mkdir -p .github/workflows &&
    curl -L -o .github/workflows/release.yml \
  4. Go to your repository page on GitHub and navigate to Settings > Secrets. Add the following secrets:
    • GPG_PRIVATE_KEY - Your ASCII-armored GPG private key. You can export this with gpg --armor --export-secret-keys [key ID or email].
    • PASSPHRASE - The passphrase for your GPG private key.
  5. Push a new valid version tag (e.g. v1.2.3) to test that the GitHub Actions releaser is working. The tag must be a valid Semantic Version preceded with a v. Once the tag is pushed, the github actions you just configured will automatically build release binaries that Packer can download using packer init. For more details on how to install a plugin using packer init, see the init docs.

»Registering Plugin Documentation

packer init allows users to require and install remote Packer plugins, those not bundled with Packer core, that have been published to GitHub automatically. To help with the discovery of remote Packer plugins on GitHub, plugins maintainers can choose to register plugin documentation for each component directly on the Packer Documentation Page.

The registration process requires the creation of a docs.zip file archive containing the .mdx files for each of the plugin components in the remote plugin's repository. A working example can be seen at the packer-plugin-docker repository.

Once in place the remote plugin can be added to Packer's website builds by opening a pull-request against hashicorp/packer, with the needed configuration for pulling in the remote documentation.

Remote plugins will have their components listed under the respected types (i.e builders, provisioners, etc) using the names specified in the remote block configuration, and labeled with their respective tier and namespace.

To register a plugin follow one of the following setups

Documentation for a plugin is maintained within the docs directory and served on GitHub.

To include plugin docs on Packer.io a global pre-hook has been added to the main scaffolding .goreleaser.yml file, that if uncommented will generate and include a docs.zip file as part of the plugin release.

The docs.zip file will contain all of the .mdx files under the plugins root docs/ directory that can be consumed remotely by Packer.io.

Once the first docs.zip file has been included into a release you will need to open a one time pull-request against hashicorp/packer to register the plugin docs.

This is done by adding the block below for the respective plugin to the file website/data/docs-remote-plugins.json.

  "title": "Scaffolding",
  "path": "scaffolding",
  "repo": "hashicorp/packer-plugin-scaffolding",
  "version": "latest",
  "sourceBranch": "main"

If a plugin maintainer wishes to only include a specific version of released docs, then the "version" key in the above configuration should be set to a released version of the plugin. Otherwise it should be set to "latest".

The "sourceBranch" key in the above configuration ensures potential contributors can link back to source files in the plugin repository from the Packer docs site. If a "sourceBranch" value is not present, it will default to "main".

»Plugin Development Tips and FAQs

»Working Examples

Here's a non exaustive list of Packer plugins that you can check out:

Looking at their code will give you good examples.

»Naming Conventions

It is standard practice to name the resulting plugin application in the format of packer-plugin-NAME. For example, if you're building a new builder for CustomCloud, it would be standard practice to name the resulting plugin packer-plugin-customcloud. This naming convention helps users identify the scope of a plugin.

»Testing Plugins

Making your unpublished plugin available to Packer is possible by either:

  • Starting Packer from the directory where the plugin binary is located.
  • Putting the plugin binary in the same directory as Packer.

In both these cases, if the binary is called packer-plugin-myawesomecloud and defines an ebs builder then you will be able to use an myawesomecloud-ebs builder or source without needing to have a required_plugin block.

This is extremely useful during development.

»Distributing Plugins

We recommend that you use a tool like the GoReleaser in order to cross-compile your plugin for every platform that Packer supports, since Go applications are platform-specific. If you have created your plugin from the packer-plugin-scaffolding repo, simply tagging a commit and pushing the tag to GitHub will correctly build and release the binaries using GoReleaser.